The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: Will Lola Astanova outstrip Yuja Wang as the sexiest pianist? Will Lola or Yuja become The Lady Gaga of Classical Music? | January 21, 2012

ALERT: This week’s “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” will feature the Kat Trio (the violin, clarinet and piano trio,  below, is in residence this year at Wisconsin Public Radio) in larger works by Milhaud and Menotti as well as smaller works by Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Ginastera and others. The concert is free from 12:30 to 2 p.m. and will be broadcast live over WPR. For more information, visit www.thekattrio.net.

By Jacob Stockinger

Is Lola Astanova about to upstage Yuja Wang as The Lady Gaga of Classical Music? (Both women say they admire Lady Gaga.)

Maybe you thought things has calmed down about Yuja Wang and her ruffling some concertgoer’s feathers with her red micro-skirts and her black, thigh-high slit black gown when she performs (below top, at Hollywood Bowl and below bottom, in a photo by Ruby Washington of The New York Times, at her Carnegie Hall debut this fall):

Well, think again.

Along comes the 26-year-old, Uzbekistan-born pianist Lola Astanova, clad in skimpy black and lots of skin, to up the ante on the sexy dress quotient in classical music.

She got quite the photo (below) and write-up preview in The New York Times this past Thursday, the morning before her concert. It all concerns her performing Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin (I don’t know the specific pieces, but she is billing it as an homage to her favorite pianist Vladimir Horowitz, so I expect it will be some of the same famous pieces by those composers that Horowitz often performed.)

You would also have to go pretty far and to extreme excess to top her own website for self-promotion. Here is a link, so you can check out the fashion shows she combines with concerts and her other promotional entries. Curiously, I still don’t see the repertoire listed.

http://www.lolaastanova.com/latest.cfm

Her performance served as her Carnegie Hall debut. But – here is the unusual part — it took place as part of a gala fundraiser the American Cancer Society featuring Donald Trump and Julie Andrews.

Here is a link to the preview story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/19/arts/music/lola-astanova-julie-andrews-and-donald-trump-at-carnegie.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=arts

And here are links to an equally skimpy review:

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/lovely-lola-astanova-wows-crowd-piano-carnegie-hall-article-1.1009125?localLinksEnabled=false

And here is 2010 story with some great vintage quotes about her attitudes:

http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2010/03/10/tweeting-free-recordings-bare-midriffs-lola-astanova-shakes-up-classical-world/

It is interesting to read about Astanova (below), who sees fashion as an expression and extension of her creativity and artistry, and to learn how her musical training went at Rice University with Jon Kimura Parker and others.

It will also be extremely interesting to see what kind of review she garners at other events — where she may not be wearing $850,000 in jewelry from Tiffany and Company or playing Horowitz’s own special Steinway.

But this much is certain: She sure knows how to attract the media and hype.

Will it help her career?

Maybe it already has – at least a bit. But she will have to sustain with substance, and not just flair. She will have to deliver the goods – and I mean the musical goods.

After all, I suspect that the brouhaha about Yuja Wang would not amount to much if she had failed to make a deep musical impression. But Yuja – who is younger and already records for a major label (Deutsche Grammophon) and has two Grammy nominations to her name — has the real stuff, the unquestionable musical talent to get away with a lot.

We have yet to see if it will be the same for Lola.

One way to judge may be from the plentiful videos she has on YouTUBE, where she seems to be following the path of Valentina Lisitsa (below) to alternative media fame with both mainstream repertoire and unusual pieces. (See just one example, a la Christopher O’Riley and his transcriptions of Radiohead songs, with more than one million hits, at the bottom).

So, who is the better pianist?

Yuja or Lola?

And who is the more striking fashion plate?

Yuja or Lola?

Who will be The Lady Gaga of Classical Music?

Yuja or Lola?

Is there a better way to attract young audiences or garner publicity?

The Ear wants to hear.


33 Comments »

  1. Why are you leaving out Khatia Buniatishvili?

    Comment by John king — July 11, 2018 @ 5:56 am

  2. I like Khatia Buniatishvili, particularly her Concerto In 34D Major!

    Comment by John King — April 29, 2017 @ 2:54 pm

  3. Ugh the “lady ga ga of classical music”? Please don’t make me vomit. Lisitsa, Astonava and Yuja are serious passionate musicians while Gaga is nothing but a marketed media doll. And why is “fashin” so improtant here? THat frivolity should have no place among these fine artists? keep the commodity mentality out of the arts.

    Comment by Dana Franchitto — January 18, 2015 @ 12:46 am

  4. Philosophically I’d have to agree with the bit about “selling one’s soul for worldly success,” but in the dog eat dog competition that envelopes the “world” of classical soloist’s, any performer who dares to rest their future only on their unvarnished virtuosity, may be pushed aside by others who have figured out what “marketing” is all about. In the end, whether classical music is on the wax, or on the wane, the public will decide who survives; not a bunch of esthete snobs, and sundry expert critics. The snobs and the critics have their audience to be sure, but it pales by comparison with the great unwashed consumer.

    Comment by Richard Anderson — May 1, 2013 @ 6:31 pm

    • this is good. Yuja by a country mile…

      Comment by terry baer — September 26, 2013 @ 7:12 pm

  5. Cool but have you checked out Tania Stavreva and Khatia Buniatishvili? Here is a link of Tania playing the Braber fuga: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2XeJ_JnEC0 and also playing body painted: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9ETa_iIG9s I also see that she models: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150576438685158.659622.72024680157&type=3 Here is Khatia’s latest Chopin video: http://www.khatiabuniatishvili.com/us/video Does only the power of publicity and designer clothing defines who is the sexiest? Is it all about what you wear and what is true beauty nowadays…

    Comment by MM Musica News — October 15, 2012 @ 3:21 pm

  6. DEAR JACOB, I AM A HUGE FAN OF YOURS, BUT I HAVE AN IDEA REGARDING THE GREAT RUSSIAN PIANIST LOLA ASTANOVA! I HAVE READ ALL THE COMMENTS POSTED AND AM SURE NONE OF THESE PEOPLE HAS REALLY EXPERIENCED LOLA ASTANOVA IN PERSON. HER REVIEWS HAVE BEEN GREAT WHEREVER SHE PERFORMS AND SHE IS BECOMING KNOWN AS A YOUNG VIRTUOSO PIANIST WHO HAS A SOUND OF THE GREAT PAST MASTERS. PLEASE REVIEW HER WEBSITE AND WATCH HER NEW PREVIEW VIDEO, MUSIC AND PASSION. ONE OTHER IDEA: I PROPOSE DINNER FOR TWO AT LA GRENOUILLE, JUST YOU AND LOLA, THEN A BRISK WALK TO THE STEINWAY BASEMENT WHERE THE GREATS PREPARE FOR THEIR CONCERTS. DINNER IS ON ME AND YOU JUST MIGHT HEAR ONE OF THE GREATEST PIANISTS AND ALSO ENJOY THE COMPANY OF A WONDERFUL PERSON! IT’S SO MUCH BETTER TO HEAR A GREAT TALENT IN PERSON AND GET TO KNOW THE PERSON BEHIND THE MUSIC. I WAIT FOR YOUR RESPONSE! YOUR HUMBLE FAN!

    Comment by PATRICK PARK — September 15, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

    • Hi Patrick,
      Thank you for loyal reading and replying.
      I appreciate your enthusiasm and your suggestion.
      But I don’t think it is practical, given where we love.
      But I will indeed be paying attention to reviews of her concerts and other stories about her.
      I will follow her career as best I can, and always look to treat her fairly as an observer — neither as a fan nor as a detractor.
      Best,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — September 17, 2012 @ 8:25 am

  7. Jake I agree time and posterity will inevitably make that decision. However to answer your question about “outstripping”: I must say that I haven’t seen Astanova perform in street-walker type numbers which blatantly invite people to look between the legs and seem to be chosen with only that goal in mind. Don’t get me wrong: Astanova’s outfits are not exactly from a nun’s closet. But while obviously sexy, for me they are still on the more appropriate side. I don’t know much about fashion but my impression is that the dresses she chooses are more elegant and tasteful, while Wang’s choices seem far more revealing and tasteless.

    Comment by Jacob S. — February 1, 2012 @ 5:23 pm

    • Hi Jacob,
      Thanks again for more reading an deploying.
      I am no fashion expert myself, and overall I agree with most of what you say.
      I think both Wang and Astanova are beautiful women who can use their physical beauty and contemporary fashion in a youthful and appealing way that many of their listeners won’t agree with.
      Such is taste.
      What I care about most is the music.
      So fark I have heard more from Wang than Astanova, and find Wang’s playing more promising of great things to come.
      But as an avid amateur pianist, I would also be lying if I didn’t say that I envy Astanova her professional pianism.
      But hen it is alls aid an done, I don’t have either the pianistic prowess of either of them, or the physical beauty and fashion for a world-class career.
      Like it or dislike it, we just have to accept reality of who they are or what they do for what it is.
      The future will tell us much more as it unfolds.
      Which kind of makes it exciting.
      Best,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — February 1, 2012 @ 9:29 pm

  8. Forget that dress, the heels, the sex appeal. Lola’s playing is undeniably brilliant. We can argue about details and nitpick, but, hey, let’s be objective. She’s a world-class pianist. Actually in my opinion the fact that so many purists are hostile toward her is simply because her very existence threatens them. Technique plus depth plus stage presence plus sex appeal — that’s a very rare combination. Yes, she does look striking but you can’t blame her for that. If I looked like her, I’d be playing that up too. So what? I do like Wang and saw both of them in performance; but for me she pales in comparison both as a musician and as a woman. Bumble bee is fun, though.

    Comment by Jacob S. — January 26, 2012 @ 11:24 pm

    • HI Jacob,
      I will leave it to others and to posterity to determine whether Lola Astanona is world-class and undeniably brilliant.
      True, some of the others do feel threatened; others are dismissive.
      I agree that she can’t help her good looks andy that they should’t be held against her.
      But many of the world’s greatest musicians are not lookers.
      And those who are don’t usually exploit it so openly.
      I prefer Wang’s playing but also haven’t heard enough of Astanova to make a definitive judgment in all repertoire.
      An attentive side-by-side comparison of the same piece played by both women would be revealing.
      But even then personal tastes still what matters most in musical interpretations to most listeners.
      Thank’s for reading and replying with details and intelligence.
      Best,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — January 27, 2012 @ 7:55 am

    • Yes, the bumble bee is funny, and so is the tritsch-tratsch-polka. But Yuja’s Mendelssohn-Concerto (you can find the full version on youtube) is divine (to hear and to watch).

      Comment by Christoph Müller — January 27, 2012 @ 5:03 pm

      • Hi Christoph,
        I also love Yuja Wang’s Scarlatti sonatas and Brahms “Paganini” Variations on her CD “Transformations” — different ends of the repertoire spectrum.
        When it comes to either woman pianist, I don’t look nearly as much as I listen.
        I suggest others do the same.
        Thanks for reading and replying.
        Jake

        Comment by welltemperedear — January 27, 2012 @ 10:02 pm

  9. New York Times REVIEW ( not the cover story) – the only professional review by a major newspaper:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/21/arts/music/lola-astanova-in-horowitz-tribute-at-carnegie-hall-review.html

    Comment by Igor — January 24, 2012 @ 3:31 am

    • Hi Igor,
      Thank you for providing the link to the review in The New York Times.
      The concert was reviewed after I posted the story.
      I intended to post it as an update later this week, and may still do so.
      But you have helped readers.
      Best,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — January 24, 2012 @ 10:21 am

  10. Whoever decided to compare this little vain chick to the world-class virtuoso Yuja Wang or to the bright, highly original Valentina Lisitsa is obviously very far from understanding anything about music. Lola’s only reason for rise and publicity is her personal manager, a Russian businessman, with all his money and connections that allowed such an aggressive advertising campaign. The girl’s playing and musicianship is hopelessly mediocre, in the best case.

    Comment by Igor — January 24, 2012 @ 3:14 am

    • Hi Igor,
      Well, I guess you would have to call me the nitwit — except that you are factually wrong.
      I didn’t compare them.
      And I do know quite a view things about music and the piano.
      I simply offered readers the materials and chance to compare the three of them and then draw their own conclusions — a big difference form passing judgment on my own.
      I think one can read the various reviews and listen to the recordings and YouTUBE videos of all three and come to his or own own conclusion.
      Furthermore, I suspect that conclusion won’t be so different from yours, though perhaps it would be expressed in a more even tone and less snidely or impolitely.
      As I said, in the end it is the music making that will determine which of them succeeding a professional career.
      So far it seems that Yuja Wang and comes in first, with Valentina Lisitsa second and Lola Astanova a distant third. But Astanova is nonetheless worth covering as a cultural or marketing phenomenon if not as a classical musician of note.
      Carnegie Hall is still Carnegie Hall.
      Happy listening and my best to you.
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — January 24, 2012 @ 10:30 am

  11. Interesting, but hardly a new concept. Though they are highly skilled musicians, neither has trumped cellist Charlotte Moorman’s performance in 1967. Unwrap a bit more, ladies, and proudly … get those knockers UP!

    Comment by Louis — January 22, 2012 @ 4:11 pm

    • Hi Louis,
      Thanks for reading and replying.
      I can;t believe someone else thought of Charlotte Moorman,
      the Saran Wrap cellist.
      I almost mentioned her but thought no one would recall her.
      Playing nude wrapped in transparent Saran Wrap was Conceptual Performance Art before its time, no?
      Many thanks for the memory, which adds a historical context, as you say.
      Best,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — January 22, 2012 @ 5:27 pm

  12. No question: Lola is more sexy. But the pure grace of Yuja’s playing is so amazing, that she can even perform in a Mao costume. Grace and charm get much less lost than beauty and sexiness, and so I am sure, that Yuja will be the darling of the concert halls even in 40 or 50 years. And finally: When I keep in mind Yuja’s musical partners (Abbado, Dutoit, MTT,the Capuçons) I think it’s no question which of the two beauties is the more important artist.

    Comment by Christoph Müller — January 22, 2012 @ 2:45 pm

    • Hi Christoph,
      Thank you for reading and replying so intelligently.
      I agree completely with you.
      Just listen to the playing of the two women and you can easily pick out the bigger talent.
      Happy listening, if not looking.
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — January 22, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

    • you got that right…Yuja IS the successor to Horowitz (and a lot easier on the eyes).

      Comment by terry baer — September 26, 2013 @ 7:19 pm

  13. sigh, I don’t think either of them will be Lady Gaga of piano.. eh, to be “Lady Gaga” of piano, you would need to be (a) much crazier with fashion (b) interpret pieces like Gould interpreted Beethoven.

    I know women like to feel pretty, but sometimes I feel like the recording companies push the sex image a little too much like the pictures of Lola. They definitely have an S&M feel, sadly.. I don’t think it’s wrong to sell yourself as being sexy, but not to the point where it’s overwhelming the music and making people focus on other attributes instead of the actual music at hand.. and in Lola’s case, I think that’s happening quite a lot 😦 even when she’s playing in sweats, 80% of YouTube comments are hollering at her..

    Michelle

    Comment by Michelle — January 21, 2012 @ 5:33 pm

    • Hi Michelle,
      Thanks for reading and replying.
      I agree with everything but I am particularly impressed by your mention of Glenn Gould and his interpretations of Beethoven (and, I would add, Mozart).
      Unfortunately, fashion chic (see all the reality shows on cable TV), hype and spin dominate our culture. If popular music, why not classical? seems to be the ruling ethic.
      But ultimately, it will be a musical decision about what rises to the top and survives.
      Just the way way Gould’s Bach did an this Beethoven didn’t.
      Best,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — January 21, 2012 @ 9:20 pm

  14. Jake,

    From your photos/descriptions, it looks like something of an artistic toss-up concerning how much skin the ladies can get away with. But like you said, ultimately it will quite likely depend upon delivering the musical goods. Personally, I don’t care how the artists dress as long as their musicianship is right.

    Comment by Larry Retzack — January 21, 2012 @ 12:44 pm

    • Hi Larry,
      I agree with you about agreeing with me!
      I’ll just point out that fashion competition also happens with male performers.
      The male pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet also served as a model for Versace and at the beginning of his career was known for dressing in chic fashion, especially red socks.
      Bu his lasting reputation was made by his playing, not by his posing.
      Music trumps fashion in the music world, if not the fashion world.
      As always, thanks for reading an deploying.
      Best,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — January 21, 2012 @ 4:35 pm

  15. The picture of the Kat Trio is actually a picture of the former UW Perlman Piano Trio. To view a real picture of the Kat Trio, visit our website at thekattrio.net.

    Thanks!

    Comment by Julie Page — January 21, 2012 @ 12:32 pm

    • Hi Juie,
      My apologies.
      I am sorry for the mistake and will get a correct photo and change it right sway.
      I’m not sure how the mistake happened.
      I bet it was simply mislabeled.
      Thank you for letting me know.
      You are sharp!
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — January 21, 2012 @ 4:23 pm

  16. I’ll have to check Lola out, although I don’t necessarily agree with her choice of shoes.

    It’d be nice if Lady Gaga weren’t a template for artists. Gaga herself is talented, but she forgoes that for a pop career and really bad excursions in fashion and public relations nightmares. Lady Gaga is a lesson in what not to do as an artist.

    Comment by Chris McGovern — January 21, 2012 @ 10:05 am

    • Hi Chris,
      I agree with your main point: People, and especially artists, should be original and to imitations or carbon copies.
      Popularity and profundity don’t always mix so well, no?
      It seems to me certain artists are making a Faustian bargain and selling their souls for worldly success.
      But then our culture is all about worldly success right now.
      Let’s hope for more depth in the future.
      Best,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — January 21, 2012 @ 9:23 pm


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